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NY State Legislative Session Shows What Virginia Can Accomplish If Democrats Win Back the General Assembly This November

Gun violence prevention, criminal justice reform, aggressive climate action, codifying Roe v Wade, marijuana decriminalization, help for DREAMers, etc.

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Remember the last time Virginia Democrats controlled both the General Assembly AND the Governor’s Mansion? Yeah, you probably don’t, because it’s been a loooong time. How long? How about 1998 for the Virginia House of Delegates? As for the State Senate, the last time Democrats outright controlled it while also controlling the House of Delegates was back in 1996. Of course, we had another problem back then; namely, that the Governor’s Mansion was controlled by Republican George Allen (1994-1998). So, good luck getting much progressive legislation out of the General Assembly and actually signed into law by the governor. Anyway, the bottom line is that it’s been a long time since Virginia Democrats controlled the General Assembly and the Governor’s Mansion at the same time (anyone remember 1993?), let alone with any sort of progressive majority (e.g., as opposed to more conservative Dems who were common back in the 1970s, 1980s and even into the 1990s).

Fast forward to today, and Virginia Democrats control all statewide elected positions (Governor, Lt. Governor and Attorney General, plus both U.S. Senate seats as well), but are still just out of reach in the House of Delegates (where it’s 51-49 Republican) and State Senate (where it’s 21-19 Republican). Fortunately, we have a great chance to change that this November, when we go to the polls to select every single member of both the House of Delegates and State Senate, and with Democrats strongly favored to take back the Senate and slightly favored to take back the House of Delegates.

So what’s likely to happen, policy-wise, if Democrats *do* take back the General Assembly this November? Will we get a slew of progressive, clean energy and environmental legislation passed? Or will more conservative Democrats and/or “Dominion Democrats” block progress in a bunch of areas? It will partly depend, of course, on how wide Democratic margins are after the November elections, and also how many strong progressives we elect. It also will depend on Democratic leadership – and unity, or lack thereof – in both chambers, as well as in the Governor’s mansion, for how hard they push in a progressive and environmental direction. And hey, you never know, but there might even be a handful of Republicans willing to vote for, say, measures to accelerate Virginia’s transition to a clean energy economy, or to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, or to…yeah, I’m running out of examples where today’s extreme version of the formerly sane, formerly reasonable Republican Party might actually agreed to positive legislation on almost any topic. Which means that, most likely, Democrats are going to have to do it ourselves.

One example of where Virginia Democrats might go is NY State, whose legislative session just wrapped up, after Democrats *finally* took clear control after many years of effectively not having it. So how/what did Democrats do, now that they finally hold the reins of power in Albany? Not too badly, thank you very much. 🙂  According to this morning’s NY Times, “With Democrats in firm control in Albany, lawmakers carried out a progressive agenda that had long been thwarted.” Some highlights?

They unveiled one of the nation’s most ambitious climate plans, mapping a 30-year course toward a carbon-free future. They granted undocumented residents the right to driver’s licenses, gave farm workers collective bargaining rights and passed strict anti-sexual harassment laws.

And that was just in the last two weeks.

[…]

The list of legislative accomplishments resembled a progressive wish list: new rights for voters, immigrants and victims of violence; reforms to the criminal justice and campaign finance systems; new gun control laws; and bans on plastic bags, toxic toys and offshore drilling.

[…]

One of those priorities was election reform. New York joined 38 other states this year in allowing some form of early voting. Another was to ban gay “conversion therapy,” as 14 other states have done.

When New York passed its bill to allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses, it became the 13th state to do so.

They also passed “limits on cash bail, which criminal justice reform activists called transformational,” as well as “a bill to allow Congress access to Mr. Trump’s state tax returns and to allow state prosecutors to charge people even if they had been granted a presidential pardon for similar federal crimes,” plus expanded decriminalization of marijuana and a bill “codifying Roe v. Wade into state law and guaranteeing women’s rights to an abortion after the 24th week of pregnancy when there is ‘an absence of fetal viability, or the abortion is necessary to protect the patient’s life or health.'” Oh, and on gun violence prevention,new laws ban bump stocks, prohibit teachers from carrying guns in schools and extend the waiting period for gun buyers who do not pass an instant background check.”

But wait, there’s more!

  • “Lawmakers passed a bill that will require employers to pay their workers equally if they perform “substantially similar work, regardless of their sex or gender. Employers will also be banned from requesting a perspective employee’s salary history when setting pay rates.”
  • “…lawmakers voted to end the state’s religious exemption to vaccinations that are required to attend school, which allowed parents to avoid vaccinating their children by claiming it violates their religious beliefs.”
  • DREAM Act: “Immigrants brought into the country illegally as children are now eligible for college tuition aid from New York if they attended high school in the state.”
  • “…the state ended cash bail for most crimes as part of a host of criminal justice reforms that also included speeding up trials and helping parolees get jobs.”
  • “The Legislature in January ended any connection between teacher evaluations and student test scores.”
  • “Boosted by advocacy from the Sexual Harassment Working Group — former legislative aides subjected to harassment — lawmakers voted to expand the state’s anti-harassment laws, removing a standard that protected employers unless the conduct was ‘severe or pervasive.'”

It goes on and on, but that’s enough to give you a flavor of what Democrats can accomplish when right-wing Republicans and faux-Democrats aren’t standing in their way.

Here in Virginia, there are a ton of bills that Democrats can and should pass if we take control of the General Assembly in November. For instance, see:

In sum, there’s a huge backlog of needs in Virginia, from preventing gun violence to enacting ethics reform to promoting a 100% clean energy economy to taking aggressive action on the climate crisis to ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment to protecting women’s reproductive freedom to tilting the playing field back towards working people to addressing inequities – racial, economic, etc., to expanding health care access and affordability, to funding transit, to…you name it, basically…that Republicans have been blocking and that Democrats could un-block if we take control of the legislature this November.

New York shows us that it *can* be done. Of course, Virginia has some major structural problems that New York doesn’t have, such as a political system that’s been accurately called “legalized corruption,” aka “the Virginia Way,” aka “Dominion and other big corporations get whatever the hell they want, screw the people and environment of Virginia.” The question is, will that change if Democrats take back power? Or will “Dominion Dems” and other “legally corrupt”/corporate-crony-capitalist types block the progress that’s so desperately needed here in the Commonwealth?  I’d argue that the only way we’re going to find out is if we: 1) win back the legislature; 2) maintain pressure on Democratic majorities, including “Dominion Dick” Saslaw’s State Senate, to do the right thing. Remember: power concedes nothing without demand and/or struggle. So get ready, because even if Dems take back the legislature, activists’ work will most certainly not be over.